On this day in 1793, Louis XVI was beheaded, guillotined.
We never really hear about Louis’ trial let alone his lawyers. Who were they? Who were the men who stepped forward to represent Louis as he was “suspended beneath the blade of the law“? Who were the three lawyers who stepped forward to manifest the responsibility of a lawyer to his client and by doing so, put their own lives at risk? Who were the three lawyers who took very seriously the ethics of advocacy? I did a bit of basic research to find out some of these things about which I spoke here in July 2016
(Excerpt from that July 2016 post)
WHAT ABOUT LOUIS’ THREE LAWYERS? And What about the Ethics of Advocacy?
The three advocates vigorously prepared the case for Louis. They defended the King despite the dangers to their careers and lives (my emphasis). This was professionalism; it was ethical advocacy.
What am I talking about when, as criminal defence lawyers, we act ethically?
Whenever a person is at the mercy of the state facing a criminal charge, there are lawyers prepared to step up and fight for that person and on his behalf, to stand up for the ideals of liberty, freedom and equality, for things like freedom from arbitrary arrest and a fair trial regardless of the lawyers’ personal thoughts and considerations.
The ethics of the legal profession always trump a lawyer’s personal thoughts and feelings and those of the public.
As advocates we are professionally and ethically bound to aid the client with ardour in presenting his side of the case. The state sustains the burden of proof regarding guilt
St. Thomas Aquinas warned that the moral theologian “has to consider the circumstances” of a human act before he calls it “good” or “bad” – the human act being what the defence lawyer does.
The adversarial system of administering justice, the rules of ethics and procedure, become the circumstances under which the trial advocate works. Any look at the ethics of legal advocacy must refer to the lawyers’ rule of ethics and code of conduct. We act by those ethical codes.
The need for skilled and honourable advocates is an accepted and fundamental part of our criminal justice system in Australia as it is in the USA, France and other countries with the Rule of Law.
Such were the three men who defended Louis XVI – Malesherbes, Tronchet and de Seze – skilled and honourable advocates, who came forward and defended him knowing they put themselves at risk.
That’s what we do as criminal lawyers, step up and advocate for those less popular in society no matter the risk of criticism, ostracization or hate.
Under the circumstances one would regard Louis XVI’s lawyers’ acts as ethical and morally good.